Syrian Defector Describes Atrocities

Syrian soldiers raise their weapons while holding a picture of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as they leave the eastern city of Deir Zor following a 10-day military operation on August 16, 2011. Syria has repeatedly said it is battling "armed gangs" -- a claim denied by rights groups who say the regime's crackdown on anti-government protests has killed 1,827 civilians since mid-March, while 416 security forces have also died. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

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    A Syrian who was deployed to be a foot soldier for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime said the military’s brutal practices forced him to defect. Ammar Cheikh Omar, 29, told The New York Times he felt proud to be serving the government when he was first deployed, claiming he and other soldiers were initially told their duty was to defend the country against Israel. As soon as the revolution erupted, they were told protesters were “terrorists” and were forced to shoot and torture innocent people. The soldiers were denied access to cellphones, nonstate TV, and the Internet, and breaking the rules resulted in up to two months in jail. Human-rights groups estimate that he is one of 5,000 defectors, though it remains difficult to confirm exact numbers as many of them remain in hiding, fearing for their safety.

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